The so-called ‘orthodox’ reading of a text is something of a minefield. I feel the word ‘orthodox’ has a degree of a prejudicial attack contained within it, but it’s a necessary concept to understand in academic discourse. To be orthodox in reading a particular thinker or philosophy is, in my mind, to be committed to a singular reading of a particular text, at the expense of all other readings. The idea of an orthodox reading of a singular text, whether that be philosophical, political, textual or otherwise, is nothing short of a limitation of the critical, emotional, or conceptual power of a work.
While I could present my own pseudo-theory of the orthodox reading (see last paragraph), I think that it is worth pointing out what I mean by way of example. Gualtiero Piccinini, in “Turing’s Rules for the Imitation Game” (Minds and machines, 2000, 10(4), pp.573) helpfully separates out several types of ‘readings’ of Alan Turing’s famous 1950 essay, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”. These categories are the literal and the standard readings. The literal readings are ones that Piccinini sees as focusing on the first section of Turing’s article, specifically in terms of how it addresses gender. The standard readings are ones that focus on the later sections of Turing’s piece on machines imitating humans, which has since evolved into the famous Turing Test. I see no problem with these categories, and I see no problem with Piccinini criticizing the adherents of the literal reading for being obstinate in their dedication to issues of gender. My problem is specifically the way in which he then suggests that the literal reading should be discarded in favour of the standard reading.
This is the orthodoxy that I referred to earlier. By suggesting that there is only a single, standard reading, and that all others are a revisionist line misses the fact that Turing’s piece provides a number of potential readings that can be utilized at different times. Pinccini may be right – there may be a revisionist camp that I am unaware of – but that would still point to the problems of orthodoxy that I am mainly concerned with: a revisionist line would attempt to supplant the standard reading with another, singular and orthodox reading. The literal reading of Turing’s work provides a useful thought experiment in anonymity that is increasingly important in my work – in that, we can’t be certain of the gender, let alone other important aspects of an individual, at the other end of our computerized, networked, conversation. Even more important for social and critical theory, rather than a theories of AI, is the importance of such a conceptually simple example of the performativity of gender that Judith Butler has so helpfully granted us.
(Obligatory pseudo-theory of orthodox readings: Obviously not conceptually or philosophically complete, but any condition as to why one reasonable reading should be favoured as the intended and orthodox reading over all the rest would necessarily be extra-textual. The way in which we read particular texts depends on our own semiotic conditioning. Perhaps a good conceptual basis for understanding this could be found in the various interpretations of religious texts within a particular religion. Each denomination places emphasis on different portions, rendering some aspects as literal and others as metaphor. The basis for these readings are extra-textual, and even the most adherent fundamentalist would have to interpret some portions of their texts as subjective metaphor.)